Oct 9, 2023 • Podcast

How do I coach inconsistent performers?

Paul gives some tips and ideas to get your sales team firing on all cylinders and performing consistently at their peak.

Show Notes

The underlying issue for inconsistent sales performers is a failure to manage their pipeline.

Make sure your team has a steady flow of new opportunities entering their pipeline. Use the 3-2-1 ratio. Listen to find out just what that is.

If salespeople report to you, your #1 job is to coach them. You must get in the field with each of your team members every month to coach them effectively.

Small wins help those inconsistent performers get back on track.

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How do I coach inconsistent performers?

(Transcribed from podcast)

On today’s episode, we are going to the website. In fact, David submitted a question to us. David, this is a great question and I look forward to diving into it. So, this again is proof positive that I do answer the questions on the website, so please make sure you visit TheQandASalesPodcast.com. While you’re there, you can ask me a question and I’ll turn it into a future show.

So I’m going to summarize the question for you here. So, David reached out to us and what he’s experiencing right now is something very common that many sales leaders experience. He has some team members who are performing well certain months and other months they start to tank. And what’s happening here is that the team is just not all performing at the same time. And what David mentioned is that, “Hey, I know that there is more potential within the team. How do I tap into that? How do I get everyone performing every month at their absolute peak?” And David, this is a common challenge that many sales leaders face. And this is a challenge for a number of reasons. We’ll dive into that on this episode. So we’re going to answer that question: How do I get my reps to perform consistently every single month? That’s what we’re going to answer on today’s show.

Before we answer that question, make sure you pick up your copy of Value-Added Selling. Value-Added Selling is your go-to guide for competing on value and not price. And also, make sure you pick up your copy of Selling Through Tough Times. In Selling Through Tough Times, we have an entire chapter dedicated to generating luck in tough times. So if we do start to experience a downturn, you’re going to want to have that book in hand. We talk about maintaining a full pipeline of opportunity and how we do that. So, pick up your copies, Selling Through Tough Times and Value-Added Selling are available wherever you get your books.

Okay, so let’s get back to it. David, I’m going to share some ideas and figure out what’s going on here. So your question was, “Is this normal? Does this happen? Do sales reps perform better certain months than other months? And why can’t everyone perform at the same time?” And, and the answer is yes, it is very common. And I’m going to share a couple thoughts and ideas.

Now, anytime we have a sales rep that is performing one month and they’re not performing the next month—. So let’s say for three months in a row they hit their target, and then for the fourth and fifth month of the year, they struggle. And then again, they hit it. We have to remember that the underlying issue, anytime you have a rep that performs and then fails to perform, is a failure to manage their pipeline. That’s what it is. Think about it. In sales, we want to manage our activity level and our opportunities in a way that we constantly have new opportunities entering our pipeline.

So, first thing I would do, David, is, I would take a look at your sales team’s pipeline of activity. Every single month when you sit down and you review their performance, we constantly want to ask, “What do you have coming in the pipeline? What new opportunities are you pursuing? How have you been progressing those opportunities through the pipeline? What is your next set of activities? How are you advancing the sale?” We want to continuously ask our salespeople about what their opportunities look like over the next three to six months. By asking these questions in our reviews, we’re setting an expectation and that’s going to be important.

Now, sticking with pipeline management, I want to share a ratio that can help you manage your team’s pipeline. So first and foremost, we need to make sure we have a steady flow of new opportunities entering the pipeline. So, the ratio that I want you to remember is 3-2-1. Alright. 3-2-1. For every one red-hot prospect or red-hot opportunity, you need to make sure you have two qualified opportunities and three potential opportunities.

So let me define what that means. So, a red-hot opportunity basically means with 90% certainty, you can say, okay, yes, they’re going to be buying and they’re going to be buying in the near future. They’ve oftentimes given you a verbal agreement. So that’s number one. That’s the red-hot opportunity. For every one of those red-hot opportunities, you need two qualified opportunities. Now, a qualified opportunity means that there’s a reasonable chance that you’re going to do some business, and you can say, “Okay, it’s 50/50 at this point. There’s a 50% chance I’m going to win this opportunity.” You’ve deemed that it’s good business. You’ve met with them. Things are going well.

For every two of those, you need three potential opportunities. Now, some call these suspects. You need a suspect and prospects and so on and so forth, but a potential opportunity means that they could potentially be good business. At first glance, this opportunity looks and feels as though it’s good business and it’s worth pursuing.

So, the key here is you want to maintain that 3-2-1 ratio within your sales team’s pipeline. And you can use this with either the number of opportunities or the dollar amount. So for every $100,000 in opportunities that are red hot, you need to make sure you have $200,000 in qualified opportunities, and $300,000 in potential opportunities.

And the key here, David, when you’re managing your team, is let them know every time they win a deal or lose a deal, they’ve got to keep filling that pipeline. So, whenever they close a deal, they know that, yes, that’s great, we won the business, but they need to have two qualified and three potential opportunities in the backfill to keep their pipeline in check. So that’s first and foremost—work on pipeline management.

The second thing we need to do, let’s further diagnose the problem. Now, yes, maintaining a pipeline of activity is critical. That’s going to fix the issue. But look at where your team struggles. Now here’s what we do. What we need to do is think of the average sales cycle. So ask yourself, “Okay, when our team is pursuing an opportunity, how long does it take from initial contact to contract?” And let’s say that that number is three months—from initial contact to contract, it takes three months to win a deal.

Here’s what you do. Whenever a team member, then, misses their monthly number, you need to look at their activity level three months prior. Three months prior, that’s going to tell you if they’re making enough calls. Now compare that to their successful months. When your salesperson is hitting their target, look at their activity level three months before that month, and that’s going to tell you what the right level of activity looks like. So again, take a look at the activity levels three months prior to either a good month and a bad month, and do some comparing, and see what it is. Now, if you’ve noticed that the activity levels are really kind of the same, then we need to take a look at their effectiveness as a salesperson.

And this is bringing us right into our third tip here. David, you need to get in the field more. Alright? Now we’ve got to remember, as a sales leader, when salespeople report to you, your #1 job is to coach them. If you have salespeople that report to you, your #1 job is to help them become more successful by coaching them. David, I would encourage you to meet with every single sales rep every single month. Never go more than one month without spending a day in the field with each of your salespeople. Now, in your email, you didn’t mention how many salespeople report to you, but let’s say you have 8 to 10 salespeople that are reporting to you. That means, again, every single week, you’re going to need to spend a couple days in the field.

Now, I know you’re busy. I know you have a lot going on. But if you can get with your team every single month, you have an opportunity to coach them more effectively. So, if you haven’t had a chance to get out in the field with them often, first things first, I would set the expectation. Let each one of your reps know, “Hey, I’m going to be spending a day in the field with you every single month, and here’s what I expect. I expect us to go see a handful of prospects, a handful of existing customers. I expect you to plan every call. I expect you to secure as many appointments as you can. And we’ll fill in the rest of the day with cold calling.”

You want to lay out in no uncertain terms exactly what you expect from them. And then while you’re out in the field, you want to just observe. When you’re out in the field, it’s not your time to shine and showcase, “Hey, here’s how great of a salesperson I am.” No, you are there to observe and listen and coach. We can’t coach effectively if we’re the one leading the call. Now I will say there are instances where you can model the behavior, but we need to coordinate that ahead of time. So if you’re going to be modeling the right behavior you want to see from your team, let them know that. Plan that out before the sales call.

And then finally, I’m going to share one tip, David, to help with those sales reps that are struggling. Whenever you have a sales team that is inconsistent—meaning you’ve got some people that are thriving, others that are struggling at different points in times—when your salespeople are struggling, they need to find a way to win. This is so important. Focus their effort on achieving small wins. What we know about motivation and what gets us excited, for salespeople, you know, it can be a knockdown, drag out, frustrating type of role. You think about it, we can do everything right and the sale still doesn’t take place. We can meet with the right people and then all of a sudden they decide to leave and go to a different company. There are all these things that happen that can frustrate sellers.

So when sellers are frustrated and they’re not performing well, let’s focus on small wins. And here’s what happens. A small win (it’s defined as a concrete outcome of moderate importance by itself). One small win doesn’t mean all that much, but you start combining these small wins and it helps generate momentum. And what happens? Your salespeople, as they get comfortable winning, they get right back on track. They get in the habit of producing and achieving. That carries over into their meetings with customers. They walk in with more confidence, more excitement, more enthusiasm, and that will spill over.

So, I would encourage, again, focus on small wins and, and here’s what that may look like. If you have a salesperson that’s struggling, give them a couple of directives and say, “Okay, let’s take a look at your activity level. Your goal for the next week is going to be to increase that activity by 25%. So, you had 15 customer appointments last week. Let’s bump that number up to 20. Your goal this week, let’s have 20 appointments.” Now you’re increasing their effort. And once they achieve that, they’re going to have a sense of accomplishment. Maybe give them a few more directives: “Your goal here this week is to demonstrate our new product three times—three live demonstrations. That’s your win.” Focus on the wins that are achievable and also, make sure those small wins focus on the right behavior that will lead to the desired results. So focus on those small wins.

Well again, just to recap: anytime you have inconsistent performance, it’s usually a pipeline issue. That’s the fundamental root cause of the issue. Make sure they manage that pipeline more effectively using that 3-2-1 ratio. Also, we need to look at activity level prior to the slump. So again, calculate your average sales cycle. Let’s say it’s three months. During a tough month, look at their activity three months before. That can help shed some light on what’s going on. Again, David, get in the field more and when you’re out there, set the expectation. And also, help those struggling sellers focus on small wins.

David, thanks again for the question.

Make it a big day.

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